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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vodka Hike Provokes Outrage

MINSK -- The new leadership in Belarus has raised vodka prices by 75 percent, prompting hard-pressed drinkers to accuse President Alexander Lukashenko of going back on election promises to make food and drink cheaper.

The price of a 0.7-liter bottle leapt to 6,900 Belarussian rubles -- the equivalent of $2.50.

Average salaries in the former Soviet republic stand at about $25 per month.

"I used to support Lukashenko," said Vasily, a worker emerging from a store with a bottle of vodka. "But he is going full circle on his election promises."

Lukashenko won last month's presidential election by a landslide after a campaign in which he pledged to root out top-level corruption and roll back price increases on food and liquor in particular.

But since taking office, he has appointed a reformist prime minister and resolved to introduce market measures quickly.

The vodka price increase, which took effect from Thursday, was the second hike since his election. Prices of bread and milk have also risen fivefold.

Government officials were quoted as saying that the increased revenue from vodka sales would be used to keep down the price of bread and other staples.

Heavy drinking remains a serious problem in the former Soviet republics and vodka remain a means of barter payment in many parts of Belarus, where market reforms have moved much more slowly than in neighboring Russia.

Lukashenko has pledged to fight alcoholism through price increases rather than the moralistic bans imposed during former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika reforms.